Earlier this month a lawsuit which sought to end federal cannabis prohibition was heard in federal court. The lawsuit received a great deal of national and international media coverage, and for good reason. The plaintiffs in the case included:
- Army veteran Jose Belen
- Former NFL player Marvin Washington
- The Cannabis Cultural Association
- Twelve-year-old medical cannabis patient Alexis Bortell
- 7-year-old medical cannabis patient Jagger Cotte
The plaintiffs (and the entire cannabis community) have been waiting for over a week for a decision, which was handed down today. Unfortunately, the decision was not favorable with the case being dismissed. The day after the hearing I expressed concern in a blog post over some of the words offered up by the presiding judge during the proceeding. Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein stated the following the day of the hearing, per the Associated Press:
But Hellerstein appeared to take the government’s argument that the plaintiffs should petition the DEA seriously.
“When agencies are set up to do the very thing that you want me to do, the right thing to do is defer to the agency,” he said.
Whenever a judge in a constitutional law case points towards a lack of exhausting all administrative options, no matter how futile those options might be, that’s often the deathblow. I was still holding out hope that the presiding judge would do the right thing and rule in favor of the plaintiffs. An activist judge could take it upon themselves to right a wrong if they so desired, which the judge in this case touched on in his decision, but unfortunately the judge stated that ‘this is not the court and not the time.’
Just because the case was dismissed does not mean that the effort was not worthwhile. I would strongly argue that the lawsuit was still successful in many ways, even if it didn’t result in the best outcome possible (a win for the plaintiffs). The lawsuit generated a tremendous amount of media coverage, and with it, much-needed awareness of the very important issue that is cannabis reform.
Everyone involved in the lawsuit should be proud of themselves, and from what it sounds like the effort may possibly continue via an appeal. Regardless of if an appeal occurs or not, the effort was worthwhile and hopefully those involved continue their passionate fight to end cannabis prohibition, which I am confident that they will do. Below is a press release that was issued by plaintiffs’ attorney via a post on Facebook (Alexis Bortell’s page) after the ruling was announced:
Today, Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York dismissed Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al, a federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Schedule I classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act.
The plaintiffs, along with Hiller, PC lead counsel Attorneys Michael S. Hiller and co-counsels Lauren A. Rudick and Joseph Bondy, vowed to appeal the lawsuit. The plaintiffs in Washington, et.al v. Sessions, et.al include: Denver Broncos Super Bowl Champion, Marvin Washington; 12-year old girl, Alexis Bortell; seven-year old Jagger Cotte of Georgia, who suffers from Leigh’s Disease; disabled military combat veteran, Jose Belen; and the Cannabis Cultural Association, Inc.
Hiller, PC background and statements on Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein’s decision:
A New York federal district court judge dismissed the lawsuit brought by Marvin Washington, Alexis Bortell and an assortment of other plaintiffs seeking a ruling that the classification of cannabis as a Schedule I drug is unconstitutional.
In dismissing the case, Judge Alvin Hellerstein took pains to “emphasize that this decision is not on the merits of plaintiffs’ claim[s].” Instead, Judge Hellerstein decided that the plaintiffs were first required to exhaust administrative remedies – an agency-driven administrative process, during which petitions are filed with and decided by the DEA to reschedule cannabis.
Judge Hellerstein did not appear to address the plaintiffs’ argument, as reflected in a recent filing, that the petitioning administrative process generally consumes an “average of nine (9) years to complete,” and is “overseen by a biased decision-maker (defendant Jeff Sessions), who has pre-determined to reject the evidence before it has even been presented.”
Michael Hiller, Hiller, PC lead counsel for the plaintiffs stated: “Resigning the plaintiffs to the petitioning administrative process is tantamount to a death sentence for those patients who need cannabis to live. The time has come for the courts to abandon decades-old precedent, notched with obsolete legal technicalities, and catch up with modern science and contemporary principles of constitutional law.”
Lauren Rudick, Hiller, PC co-counsel for the plaintiffs, added: “The plaintiffs weren’t the only ones who experienced a setback today. States and principles of federalism took a black-eye as well, and under the false premise that the courts are constrained by prior decisions to take actions, which the overwhelming majority of Americans, including members of Congress and the President, know are wrong.”
Joseph Bondy, co-counsel for the plaintiffs, commented: “We believe that the court didn’t consider a number of our arguments and declined to hear us at oral argument on some of those points. We are exploring all of our legal arguments in furtherance of winning this case.”
Michael Hiller concluded: “This case will continue to move forward. Notwithstanding the outcome today, we remain confident that the final disposition of this case will include a finding that the classification of cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act is unconstitutional – freeing millions of Americans to safely treat their conditions with a plant that maintains their health and their lives.”